Cherie, aka Cherry Bomb, the Burning Man Race Director, asked us to repeat these words in honor of Micah True, also known as Caballo Blanco. I never thought in my young life thought I would ever be repeating this same sentence, let alone repeating it before a 50K run, and definitely never at Burning Man. But here I was at 27; getting ready to start in just a tiny thong, a hydration pack, and sports bra.
I wasn’t sure if I was very under trained or blissfully unaware, but when 4:45 am rolled around I felt surprisingly calm. Cherry Bomb had been encouraging every burner she talked with to sign up and just try the run, regardless of training. It would be the most powerful running experience, and listed off past participants who finished without even doing a marathon before. The landscape, the scenes, the music, the art cars, the burners that cheered you on from night to dawn to mid-afternoon, the fellow runners yelling words of encouragement… these were the things that fueled the participating runner. Not training, gels, water, or caffeine.
She was right.
The plan was to start at 5 am. It was still pitch black, with the only lights being colorful LEDs and el wire bouncing on people, art cars, and lord knows what else. After Cherry Bomb’s speech and our reciting Caballo Blanco's words, we lined up. But unlike other running races in the "default world" where the start of the race is a huge deal, at 5 am I didn’t even hear anyone say “Go!” I just started running after seeing everyone else getting started. We would be running 4 loops total, with each loop being a little over 7 miles.
We were only 5 minutes into loop 1 of 4 when we ran through a serious rave. The late night (or early morning, actually) ravers kept trying to stop us and ask us to dance with them, and a couple runners joined them for a few minutes. Most of us just laughed and said “We’ll see you after! Save a beer or 10 for us!”
After I made it through the rave and was coming to the end of the Esplanade, I was already a quarter of the way through loop #1. Loop #1 was surreal. I was completely alone by the time I got to the trace fence as runners were settling in to their own paces throughout the course. The sky was just beginning to light up with a tiny bit of sun, but the celebrations I heard from almost a mile away continued on as if time and the sun and the entire outside world didn’t exist.
Loop #2 was magic. I really have no other word for it except pure, un-explainable magic. The kind that you really only see in your dreams. When I swung around Pink Lightning (the main base for the race) to head out on the second loop, the sun was just beginning to rise. It was still a little dark, but became quieter, as if a cozy blanket was being laid over the entire playa. My plan was to go slow for the entire run (about 10 min per mile) so I could just stay in a comfortable little groove. I was 10 miles and in my comfortable running groove when the sun finally made it up over the horizon, creating these beautiful desert sunrise colors across the entire landscape.
There weren’t as many distractions for loop #2 since the ravers had finally called it quits and the day-time adventurers hadn't awoken yet. I took this quieter time as an opportunity to turn my perspective inward. I've always been competitive, and pushed myself to race in pain to try to get a specific time. This was truly the first "race" I had ever done where my plan from the beginning was to go slow and enjoy the run. I thanked myself for being in that moment, for not forcing myself to race in pain, but instead allowing settling into a zen-like state of running. I thanked myself for truly listening to the crazy person inside my soul, letting my freak flag fly high, and signing up for this once in a lifetime run. I thanked myself for being confident in the power of my body and mind, and not giving in to any kind of fear or belief that either weren’t good enough. It was one of the most beautiful moments of the week.
Tears came to my eyes as I put one foot in front of the other and started on loop #3 around 9 AM. At this time of day, there are two kinds of burners: Those who are just waking up, and those who haven’t been to sleep. The best kind to see when you’re running 31 miles in the desert are the ones who haven’t been to sleep.
I was still feeling pretty good at this point and was enjoying the odd scenes around me. I was feeling so good that when one of these haven’t slepters ran full speed at me while wearing a brown furry coat, screaming that I was a pussy runner if I didn’t stop to shotgun a Tecate, I gladly proved him wrong. Mostly because I was thirsty AF for a beer and Tecate is one of my favorite beers on a hot day. I gave the empty can back to him and he paused, looking at the can in a confused way. After it registered to him as I was already running away, he yelled “DAMN YOU’RE A BADASS!!!”
About ¾ of the way through the loop #3, I started to feel like shit. That shitting feeling when your legs are pretty much ready to be stop moving. It was the kind of shitty feeling I could handle because of other crazy running or biking events I'd done before, so I wasn’t too worried about it. But it definitely deflated the happy-go-lucky, zen-self-love-distracted bliss I was in for the first two loops. At this point, I knew I needed to focus less on what was around me and more on just keeping one foot in front of the other. This proved to be more difficult in action than in theory...
A few burners set up a mandatory “Twerk Stop” for the runners at the end of loop #3. Even though I was beginning to die inside, I jumped right into it and was told I had the best twerk they’d seen all day. This is something I secretly take pride in while I'm in the default world, so it gave me a little mental boost knowing I still had it while running a 50k in the desert.
The boost was short lived, and death-by-running-at-Burning Man seemed like a real possibility. The end of loop #3 and the majority of loop #4 turned into a giant, painful blur. I think I was handed frozen blueberries by three generations of Burners, a young son, his father, and his grandfather, but this could have been completely made up by my imagination.
Julian (my partner in adventure and life) made a pop-up aid station on the 2:00 street and offered to run the last loop with me. I know it was not a mirage of my mind because there is a photo of it (right). He asked a few haven’t slepters that were sitting on a couch across from his pop-up-aid-stop to watch the stand. They had been smoking DMT all night, but Julian trusted that they were reliable gentlemen, obviously.
At this point, I needed a red bull. I had 7 miles left to go, had already run 24, and that shitty feeling was creeping into unbearable. Since Julian is a fast AF runner, he offered to sprint to our camp and get me one, and we would meet at Pink Lightning to run the last loop together.
As is a common occurrence at Burning Man, we missed each other at our meeting spot by seconds. The minute I stopped to wait for him, my legs freaked out and began to cramp. I couldn’t let my legs stop moving without the cramping getting worse, so after about 3 minutes of waiting I took off without him. I had other burner runners around me to talk to, if I happened to need to talk through the pain at this point. The red bull would become a distant memory.
Around mile 26, everything started hurting. Not just my legs, but ev-er-y-thing. My joints were aching from the first 5 hours of pounding on the desert surface, and my shoulders were burned from the sun that was almost overhead by this point. The only thing that was keeping me moving forward at this point were the other runners saying the most general, generic phrases like "good job!" or "keep going."
Julian caught up to me around mile 29, with red bulls in hand. Along with him came a dust storm. My eyes, mouth, and throat were full of dust, and tears of pain and worry streamed down my face. The thought of not being able to make it crept into my mind, even with only 2 miles left to go. All of the self-love and confidence that I felt on the first two loops had somehow disappeared when I needed them the most. I was jogging real slow, walking at some points, crying, and could barely see through the dust.
Then I saw another runner coming towards me on the last mile, which was a short out and back. He said “Awesome job, keep going” in a calm, genuine tone. Another runner became visible in the dust. This one was a tattooed naked man with his dick pierced. Needless to say, I was impressed at his endurance for multiple reasons. He and I had the same pace most of the run, but he was a little bit behind me at this point. I was crying and walking, but as he passed the opposite direction as I was going, he yelled “HEY! You’re supposed to be the one who's running faster, not me!! Get going!” Julian looked over at me and I smiled. I knew I could finish.
And I did.
The BRC50K is beyond explanation. I have tears running down my face as I write this. A simple blog post detailing my experience will never truly depict what happened. From late-night-to-early-morning ravers handing me Gatorade, to being sprayed with rose water by a German fairy-looking supermodel, to being (playfully) harassed by the punk skater camp for not taking a puff of a cigarette or a shot of whiskey, to my fiance not only supporting me, but also providing every other runner much-needed electrolytes, to the naked man with his dick pierced who yelled words of encouragement to keep me running. Each person on the playa helped me finish. The red bull, the gels, the training (or lack of), the self-encouragement… although they helped, they were not what kept me going to the end.
cherie was right. it was my fellow runners & burners who kept me strong. they guided me to the finish line of my first 50k in a place i call home...
...So, what now??
I am very thankful to be heading back in 2016, but this time I am planning on participating in the 50k by volunteering instead of running it. My hope is to give other burner runners the same, magical feeling of support that I received when I did it. Please reach out if you are going to the burn this year too, or are interested in volunteering for the event.
Want to be on the playa or run in the 50k but can't make it this year? Even though nothing is like truly being there, you can get a feel for being on the playa by following my burner vibes playlist on spotify. Lay back, listen in, & zone out.